FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) — A Canadian citizen who led propaganda efforts for the Islamic State group and personally killed two Syrian soldiers in a widely circulated video was sentenced Friday by a US judge to life imprisonment.
Prosecutors are seeking a life sentence for Saudi-born Mohammed Khalifa, 39, who held key roles for the Islamic State group from 2013 until its capture in 2019.
In a sentencing memo, prosecutors said the caliph played a key role in the group’s successful efforts to recruit thousands of foreign fighters to defend its self-proclaimed caliphate in Iraq and Syria.
In two infamous propaganda videos titled “Flames of War”, Khalifa can be seen shooting Syrian soldiers in the back of the head as they dug his grave. He also narrated the video.
Khalifa’s defense attorneys sought a term of just 20 years at Friday’s sentencing hearing in Alexandria, Virginia. He argued that he was less guilty than the two British-born Islamic State members – Alexandra Cote and El Shafi Elsheikh, nicknamed the “Beatles” by their captors – who personally beat and tortured Western hostages . Cote and Elsheikh were both convicted in Alexandria – one has received a life sentence and the other is expected to face a life sentence when the sentence is formally handed down next month.
He also argued that it was wrong for the US to impose such a harsh sentence against a Canadian who was not directly convicted of killing or harming any American and who could easily be extradited to Canada.
Khalifa was convicted last year on terrorism charges. In a letter to U.S. District Judge TS Ellis ahead of Friday’s sentencing hearing in Alexandria, Virginia, Khalifa said he felt compelled to help the Syrian people in their rebellion against dictator Bashar al-Assad, but that he became A fighter opposed to joining an aid organization made the mistake of opting for.
“As I followed the events in Syria, I hated myself for sitting and doing nothing,” he wrote.
According to an FBI affidavit, Khalifa told FBI agents that he expected to be sent to an IS training camp when he joined the organization in late 2013. Instead, he was recruited to join the media department of the organization because of his English language skills and spent about five years. years as a leader in their promotional unit.
Khalifa told agents that he was captured in January 2019 when he disobeyed IS orders to flee from advancing forces. Instead, he said, he launched a sort of single-handed attack on Syrian defense forces, surrendering after his AK-47 rifle jammed.